In the midst of the Sept. 11 remembrance ceremonies last Wednesday, Park View High School teacher Erika Cuevas wanted former Senator Charles Waddell to speak to her leadership development class.
“There’s no better way to define leadership than to give an example like Senator Waddell,” said Cuevas, first-time teacher of a class focused on developing students’ leadership and teamwork skills. “He was positive and upbeat and encouraging to them. Here was this man who took time out of his day, and he spent the entire period with them.”
Waddell spoke about character, public service and effective communication in his speech entitled, “9/11, 2001: What Have We Learned?”
“We must have your help, your input, your every participation," he said. "Act as if our future and the future of the world depends on you, because it truly does."
On Sept. 13, the 20 students in Cuevas’ class discussed Waddell’s qualities as a leader.
"They said he was proactive in getting involved in government and in getting involved in issues," Cuevas said. "He definitely set goals. He definitely had to prioritize."
Some of Waddell’s qualities are those Cuevas is teaching, using “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens” by Sean Covey, "Who Moved My Cheese?" by Spencer Johnson and “The One Minute Manager” by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, as the main textbooks.
CUEVAS PLANS to cover leadership skills, goal setting, time and stress management, effective communication and self-awareness in the semester-long class, which has been offered for Park View students grades 9-12 for the past three years. Cuevas, who lives in Loudoun County, is a fourth-year teacher with three years teaching experience at the school. Her father is a retired member of the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors and the Board of Visitors for James Madison University. He is scheduled to speak to the class within the next month.
“We encourage all students to take this because every student has leadership potential, whether they lead themselves or others,” Cuevas said.
Ninth-grader Jessica Cole is taking the class because she wants to be a leader, not a follower.
"To work with other people, you need to achieve these habits first," Cole said. "You have to know yourself. You have to recognize what's going on with you. It's a way of taking care of yourself and working with others."
The class offers several definitions of leadership, allowing students to develop their own definitions while pinpointing their personal leadership goals. The students can learn about individual leadership skills, like being proactive and putting first things first, and leadership skills involving others, such as thinking win-win and listening to others with sincerity. These are a few of the 7 habits outlined in Sean Covey’s book.
“It gives [students] an opportunity to develop and think about the skills involved in leadership,” said Principal Anne Brooks.
CUEVAS TYPICALLY starts the leadership class with a quote, then asks students to journal their responses for a 15 to 20-minute discussion. She may give them an impromptu speech on current events or history and expects them to learn about the different parts of speech. She also plans to teach them how to conduct meetings, write agendas and stay within the agendas.
“It’s more of a practice. They are getting in the habit of being in front of people,” Cuevas said.
Cole agreed. "It teaches us how to speak in front of others and sound professional and speak on the spot," she said.
As Cuevas teaches, she tries to exemplify leadership skills, she said. “I want to be productive and give back. That’s why I want to be a teacher,” she said. “If you can give back, you can see all the positives and blessings, all the things that are good in your life. You’re seeing a side of yourself you normally don’t get to see.”
Cuevas also is teaching two Spanish classes this semester.